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Popeye (1980) – DVD Review

Popeye DVD cover art


Written by: Jules Feiffer, based on the comic strip by E. C. Segar
Original Songs & Music by Harry Nilsson and Tom Pierson
Directed by: Robert Altman
Starring: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley, Paul L. Smith, Donald Moffat, and Ray Cooper

Released by: Paramount
Region: 1
Rating: PG
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Own it, but be ready to drop it for a Collector’s Edition

Popeye (Williams) shows up in the town of Sweethaven in his Dinghy after years of looking for his dear old dad. See, he just has a feeling that his long lost father is to be found there. He takes up a room at the house of the Oyl right there in Sweethaven. It just so happens that the eldest daughter of the Oyls, Olive (Duvall), is engaged to be married to Capt. Bluto (Smith), but Popeye falls in love with her anyway. Bluto is the righthand man to the Commodore (Walston) of the town. Will Popeye find his Pappy and true love?

[ad#longpost]Altman’s movie adaptation of this popular cartoon series is very near close to perfection. He mixes just the right amount of physical comedy with his patented ad lib style of background dialogue to bring the comedy off. Williams was the perfect (and almost obvious) choice to play the squinty-eyed sailor. His improvisational style worked flawlessly both with the character and Altman’s film style. Not only that, but Duvall was the only choice to play Olive Oyl and she proved herself over and over again. In terms of production value, this film scores yet again. Altman’s production team created a gloomy hurricane-wracked shanty town that was the ideal backdrop for this cartoonesque film. Special effects were used to help tell the story and increase the believability in the larger-than-life quality of this film rather than just being there for the sake of having special effects in the movie, which is very refreshing.

The musical numbers in the movie work on a completely different level. There’s not really one song in the movie that you are going to walk away humming, but they work within the world of the film–nor is it unbelievable that these people would suddenly break out into song.

Even though this film was not a huge box office and critical success when it was first released to cinemas, it has become a cult classic, and therefore deserves a much more extensive DVD treatment than it has here. This DVD doesn’t even have a trailer for the film on it. I would love nothing more than to have a commentary track with Williams, Duvall and Altman talking about their experiences on the film…on second thought, perhaps Williams should have his own commentary track for the safety of the others. Anyway, some kind of commentary track would be great. After all, a vast majority of the cast and crew are still with us, and we should take advantage of that fact before it’s too late. Not only that, but this DVD begs for a tribute to the cartoon to be presented. Or a featurette about the history of the cartoon and comic strip. Hell, I would settle for just a couple of the cartoons that inspired the writer to come up with the story. Instead, we just have the movie presented in widescreen anamorphic format (and for that I’m very thankful).

If you have never seen the movie, just go out and buy it. It’s a classic. Just be ready to drop this edition for a better one with more special features on it whenever they decide that the time is right for it.

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